Tit-For-Tat is a Fabulous Collaboration Tool

tit-for-tat Practice tit-for-tat to make collaborators aware of their responsibility for the relationship.

There are two rules to tit-for-tat:

  1. always cooperate on your first interaction with someone
  2. on each successive interaction, follow the other person’s lead.

Tit-for-tat is a workable, proven formula for increasing cooperation under competitive conditions.

Derived from game theory, computer science, and evolutionary psychology, tit-for-tat is

  • the simplest and most straightforward strategy for maximizing the potential of the relationship for each party
  • and for getting out of a relationship quickly if the actions of other party puts you at risk of losing.

If the other party follows the same strategy, both of you will make trusting opening moves when the relationship begins. Then each successive interaction will be one of trust, mutual support, and collaboration, and neither party will defect on the other.

If the other party does not cooperate with you (i.e. breaks an agreement or takes advantage of you), then your next move will be to refuse to cooperate with them.

Tit-for-tat can be an effective way of building a relationship in the following ways:

In a new relationship, always be willing to make a contribution to the team that will not leave you feeling at risk if not matched by others. Then do what you said you’d do and see if the other team members make similar contributions. If they do, then tit-for-tat rules suggest you keep making contributions to the team. If they don’t contribute, then tit-for-tat rules suggest you should reconsider your original contributions.

When you choose to remain “locked into” a relationship (like staying in a job that requires you to work with others), make sure the other parties understand that

  1. you will never defect on them
  2. they can be in charge of the quality of the relationship: if they support you, you will support them; if they defect on you, you will withdraw your support from them.

Make sure to follow through.

Do not tolerate defection — but don’t be overly punitive or self-righteous either. Getting even is not a move in tit-for-tat. When you match the other party’s defection, always do so with equal or lesser force. If you match the other person’s defection with greater force, the other party is likely to take your move as a signal to escalate.

What about compassion and second chances?

Advanced research on tit-for-tat says that the best strategy is to forgive a defection on occasion and chalk it up to unclear thinking. In this case, talk to the other party and tell them your intention to cooperate with them if they will cooperate with you too. Then make another contribution (even though they defected on you on the last move). This is often a turnaround strategy.

Get Started With This 5-Minute Practice Tip

Think of a relationship in which

  • defections sometimes occur and often turn into escalations
  • you are committed to increasing collaboration.

Then adopting compassionate tit-for-tat as your own strategy. As you think things through, consider what you need to change about your own behavior to make this strategy viable.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Leadership on 06/30/2014 07:00 am
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